10 Biggest Vegetable Gardening Mistakes We've All Made

Vegetable garden with an assortment of plants in raised garden bed

The Spruce / Alandra Chavarria

Like all gardening, growing great vegetables takes experience. Success is going to depend on a lot that is out of your control including rainfall, temperature, and soil type to name just a few considerations. There are some common mistakes to avoid starting out that will save you time and effort and increase your chances for a bountiful harvest.

  • 01 of 10

    Mistake #1: Planting Too Early

    Woman starting seeds indoors

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    We're all impatient to get the garden started. It's very tempting to get your hands in the soil and start seeds months before your last frost date. However, little seeds quickly become lanky, hungry seedlings. They need a lot more space in your home, and they become stressed if they must remain indoors in pots with limited light.

    Even if you start your garden by purchasing seedlings, resist the urge to put them in the ground as soon as you get them home. It may be true that you'll find the biggest selection of varieties if you shop early, but have a plan for hardening them off and for protecting them if a late frost is predicted. Otherwise, you'll be right back at the nursery buying more plants.

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  • 02 of 10

    Mistake #2: Picking a Bad Spot

    choosing an already vegetative spot

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    It's a pleasure to work in a vegetable garden in the crisp days of spring or fall, but if your garden is not handy, eventually you won't be visiting it every day. It only takes a day or two for zucchini to grow to the size of a bowling pin or a rabbit to break through your fence and finish off your peas.

    Two other considerations are available water and sun exposure. Most vegetables require at least six hours of sun a day. Not enough will result in weak plants with fewer fruits that won't develop full flavor. Consider how you will get water to your garden in times of insufficient rainfall. Hoses and watering cans may become necessary and the closer the garden is to the water source, the easier it becomes to keep your plants hydrated.

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  • 03 of 10

    Mistake #3: Skimping on Soil

    soil detail

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    The type of soil in your garden is critical to the health of your plants which rely on a proper balance of acid and alkalinity. Primary nutrients are nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium which must be available. Good soil also contains secondary and micronutrients as well as beneficial organisms. Earthworms are always a good sign. Cooperative extension agencies provide soil testing and can tell you if your soil needs to be amended and how to accomplish this before you plant. Starting off with poor soil means you will be fighting against it all season.

    Avoid working your soil too early. Soggy springtime weather can be frustrating but it pays to wait to dig, hoe or til up your garden until a handful of soil crumbles when squeezed in your fist. Working wet soil causes compaction which causes poor root growth and weak plants.


    Consider adding a green manure cover, compost or leaf mold to the garden at the end of the season. Adding nutrients back into depleted soil will pay off in the long run.

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  • 04 of 10

    Mistake #4: Not Harvesting

    onion harvest

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    It sounds counter-intuitive, but some gardeners are hesitant to harvest when things are ready. Not harvesting when a vegetable is ready to be picked will actually cause your garden to slow down. A plant won't set more cucumbers or peppers if its branches are already full of them. Herbs, like basil and cilantro, benefit from frequent harvesting. Cutting off the tops of the plants encourages them to branch out and get fuller. Enjoy your vegetables while they are at peak.

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  • 05 of 10

    Mistake #5: Planting Too Much

    abundance of greens

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    When the temperature plummets with snow on the ground, the seed catalogs can be tough to resist. Planting more than you can eat or even take care of is a common mistake starting out. Vegetable gardens are a lot of work. It is much more rewarding to enjoy success with a smaller garden than to struggle trying to keep up with a large space.


    For someone brand new to gardening, a 10 x 10-foot garden is a good size for starting out.

    Too much variety can also overwhelm you. Tomatoes are popular, but growing great tomatoes involves a lot more effort than growing potatoes or kale. Every vegetable variety will require different levels of attention from you, so start with a handful of plants you really enjoy eating or that you can't purchase fresh locally. Learn how to grow them well and then expand your repertoire.

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  • 06 of 10

    Mistake #6: Ignoring Spacing

    appropriately spaced vegetables

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    A newly planted garden, spaced properly, is going to show a lot of bare soil. Seeds of vegetables like lettuce, carrots and beets can be planted closely and thinned as you harvest. Plants that may be set out as seedlings, like tomatoes and peppers, or large or bushy plants like corn and beans are going to need a lot more space at maturity. Packing these vegetables in too closely will inhibit sunlight and air circulation which will likely lead to disease and lower yields. If squashes, pumpkins and cucumbers are in your garden plan, they require even more room since these vines can spread out more than a dozen feet in any direction.

    To make the best use of space, interplant early vegetables like spinach and lettuce underneath or around those that require a longer growing season.

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  • 07 of 10

    Mistake #7: Not Staggering Harvest Times

    stagger your harvesting times so you will always have fresh vegetables

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    Succession planting may be the most useful practice for insuring a continuous harvest. For example, you can extend your lettuce harvest by planting short rows every two weeks rather than planting one long row at the beginning of the season. Keep in mind that some crops, like corn and beans, will yield a better harvest when planted in long rows or blocks. These plants rely on outside elements like wind or insects for pollination. It is still possible to use succession planting with these crops, however, you may harvest enough for your needs with just one planting.

    You have to do some strategic planning to stagger your harvest times. The payoff will be an extended period of time during which you can enjoy all your hard work with fresh vegetables on the table.

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  • 08 of 10

    Mistake #8: Putting Off Maintenance

    watering the garden

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    Weeding, feeding, and watering need to be done on a regular schedule, especially watering. Different vegetables have different watering needs. For example, tomatoes should be watered at ground level. Overhead watering can encourage diseases and blights. Drip hoses are a good choice for watering tomato plants. Other vegetables like corn, lettuces and broad leaf plants like squashes are more tolerant of watering with a overhead sprinkler system.

    Your hoe may be the best tool in your shed. Weeds are the bane of all gardeners but they compete with your vegetables for water and nutrients. Allowing weeds to fill in will stunt many plants and reduce yields. Weeds also provide cover for insect pests that carry disease and eat your garden.

    There are a number of ways to feed your plants. You can side dress growing vegetables with compost or hoe or till in appropriate fertilizers. Be careful to avoid too much early on as this can promote lots of leafy green growth at the expense of the fruits later on.

    Without regular water, the right nutrients, plenty of sun and air circulation plants will stress and shut down. They go into self-preservation mode and refuse to set fruit or simply bolt to seed, to ensure the propagation of their species.

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  • 09 of 10

    Mistake #9: Not Fencing

    vegetable gardening mistakes - fenced garden with wheelbarrow in front

    Maskot/Getty Images

    Planting vegetables is like ringing the dinner bell. Herbivores, like deer, rabbits, and groundhogs, will clean you out overnight. The need for a sturdy fence cannot be overstated. What kind of fence depends on what animal problems you have.

    Deer can jump and require either a high fence, electric fencing, or one of the clever angled or double fences that makes them unsure about jumping in and being trapped.

    Burrowing animals, like groundhogs, rabbits, and chipmunks, need both an above-ground fence that is at least 3 to 4 feet tall and about a foot of buried fence. Angle both fences outward from the garden, to deter them even more.

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  • 10 of 10

    Mistake #10: Ignoring Little Problems

    diseased leaves

    The Spruce / K. Dave

    Not every problem in the vegetable garden requires a full assault; in fact, most don't. But you need to monitor your plants regularly. If you see yellowing leaves or spots, make a correction before the whole row of plants becomes ill. Insects like to lay their eggs on the undersides of leaves; scraping off the eggs before they hatch can help avert the problem.

    Whether the problem is caused by a bacteria or insect infestation, if may not be necessary to treat with commercial sprays and insecticides. Some plant problems such as blossom end rot on tomatoes can often be remedied simply by removing the affected fruit. If you do have an overwhelming insect infestation, be sure to choose to correct solution for that insect and always follow all precautionary measures written on the label.

Vegetable gardening is an ongoing learning experience made up of lots of small successes and some failures. Begin with good soil, good seeds and good garden practices and the knowledge will follow.